This post was originally published in 2013 and has been updated to ensure the content is current and relevant for NICU families.
If you’re a new NICU dad, I have good news: you’re going to do great.
I have never met anyone who, while in the process of trying to start a family, would say “We’re going to get pregnant, and preeclampsia will set in at about 26 weeks along, forcing us to have our child early. It’ll be great!”
Nobody plans on having a pre-term baby. Alas, it’s a prevalent part of many parents’ lives. Sometimes it comes with no warning. It can be an overwhelming moment in your life. As a dad, I was sometimes torn about my emotions, how to feel and how I could best be a father and husband. We were fortunate to have a relatively short 25-day stay in the NICU. Compared to many stories I have heard, it pales in comparison. But the reality is it was still a difficult time for me. There are so many things as a dad to digest when you are dealing with a child in the NICU. It would have been nice to have known another dad who had dealt with the same circumstances when we were there. But I relied heavily on my faith, my wife, my family, and close friends as a means to air my fears, concerns, successes and joys.
Are you a new NICU dad? Here is some of the best advice I could share with a dad who is just beginning the adventure.
Advice for a new NICU Dad
Accept the circumstances; embrace the moment.
Whether or not you are ready for parenting, the moment is here. It was a hard pill to swallow when my son was born seven weeks early, but I had no choice but to be optimistic and pray for progress. It’s easy to go numb under adverse times, but that benefits no one.
Understand that sometimes the best things come from moments over which we have no control.
I felt totally helpless the first couple of hours after our son’s birth. But the reality and beauty of life was so profound that I soon decided to bask in that beauty rather than feel sorry for myself.
Your child and wife need you, more than ever, to be a cheerleader.
Moms deal with a lot of guilt and sorrow when their babies don’t go full term. Let her know you love her. Let your child know you love him or her. Talk to your child. Sing to your child. Anything to establish a connection. It is so important.
Participate in kangaroo care whenever possible.
For whatever reason, I never took the time to do skin-to-skin care, and it’s my biggest regret from the NICU. My wife did it as much as she could. I was so scared I was going to break him, and my anxiety prevented me from thinking clearly. Every dad I have talked to that did it said it was great.
Don’t be afraid to talk about your feelings, ever.
One of the biggest misconceptions about dads is their place in the family picture. Communicate how you feel. It’s okay to feel scared. It’s okay to be emotional. But compartmentalizing your feelings will only create more problems down the road.
Ask questions; be informed.
One of the better memories I have of our stay in the NICU was the rapport we had with doctors and nurses. These people are looking out for your child’s best interests. We would always make sure we were around the NICU for the daily rounds they made. Because we were active in his nurturing, the team was always willing to take some time answering questions and concerns we had. That proved to be a major sanity check for us throughout our time spent at the hospital.
Sometimes you just need a break.
I was working while our son was in the NICU. But whenever I had free time I would make it up to the hospital. After a couple of hours of hearing monitors beeping and staring at my son, I felt the walls closing in. I felt guilty sometimes, but you have to clear your head every now and then.
I hope this will find a new NICU dad and help in some way, shape or form. Like I said: you’re going to do great!